Recap of part II: “As if to punctuate what it had said, the car abruptly accelerated and passed a cluster of vehicles that were flying at a normal speed. ‘Where are you taking me?’”
The car did not answer.
We were above a very squalid area. I spotted a number of people who were not well off. There was junk, trash, defunct, decaying cars, and shacks composed of improvised materials.
This was a zone I’d heard of. The aircar was flying past a Zone of Renunciants. I was fascinated.
A group of people, “The Renunciants,” were permitted to exist outside civilization. The AI sometimes mined them for genetic material or did experimentation on some of them in return for basic supplies. Few people envied the Renunciants and their impoverished lifestyle; their lifespans were short and deprived. Their ancestors had chosen this because they renounced the regimented, controlled existence of being supervised by the AI’s.
The car headed for a hillside that had a giant rectangular opening in it. The car went in, and, beyond the opening, there was a giant, well-lit interior, and a steel platform. The car landed on it.
As it touched down, I saw that there was a ground-crawler vehicle approaching. From it emerged a very tall woman, and four large security-enabled robots. The door to my vehicle opened. My seat pivoted in such a way that I was thrown from the car. I stood, and my legs were like spaghetti noodles.
“Welcome home,” said the nearest of the security robots.
“What is my assignment?” I asked, not knowing what else to ask.
“This is where you will live out your days. We will provide your food and shelter, and you will have the freedom to think and say anything you want. And you can read as much as you want in the library. The works have only been abridged by fifty percent.”
The tall woman said, “You will also be expected to write your thoughts.”
“I thought I was committing a crime.”
Again, the tall woman spoke. “The AI’s have to maintain a few people who are allowed to think.” I realized that the tall woman was embedded with a control chip at the top of her scalp. A hybrid. The AI’s sometimes made hybrids when they wanted a better understanding of what people were thinking.
I was surprised at how naturally thoughts could come to me.
I thought, I am now a member of the fabled “Thinkers,” elite individuals about whom regular people were afraid to speak, but, occasionally, ventured a whisper. People were expected to express contempt at The Thinkers, but most were in secret envy.
A robot interjected: “You will not be permitted contact with the other Thinkers because of your classification.”
I was disoriented. “What ‘classification’?” I asked.
I sensed that my question had elicited a smile from the AI units present. Yet you could never see them actually smile or express a feeling. You just sensed it.
The tall hybrid woman answered, and this surprised me; “You are ninety percent Neanderthal due to gene convergence. You need to be observed closely and kept separate for this reason and because of your temperament. You distinguish yourself from others. And you don’t have a good response to excessive comfort.”
The AI unit then spoke; “Jordan will show you to your room.” Jordan, I guessed, was one of the security robots.
The room was tiny; it lacked amenities other than a toilet, a sink, and a hard bench to sleep on. Yet, it also had a small wooden table and a chair.
“This is your new home.”
The door clanged shut. I looked and saw that there was no doorknob. The room lacked a video game. It lacked the comfortable interior of my housing unit. I looked at the room some more. I spotted a notebook and a pencil.
I sat in front of the little wooden table. I picked up the pencil, and I began to write. After an hour, a unit brought food and coffee into the room. The robot handed me the tray, while, with its third arm, it snatched the five sheets of paper that had my writing.
The first words I wrote had been, “Think about this: Why do the AI’s need thinkers?” And this was closely followed by, “Am I imprisoned? This room is a prison. Am I honored or am I punished?”
I could only guess as to why robots thought they needed Thinkers. An image came to mind from elementary school biology class. An instructor was vainly trying to explain to students the folly of inbreeding. Could information “Inbreed,” as well?
I hadn’t known if such privileged people really existed. Now, I knew. For the remainder of my life, I was to be a Thinker.
I was surprised at how naturally thoughts could come to me. It was as though a secret version of myself had always existed within, and had been waiting all of these years to emerge, as soon as it was safe to do so.
It was getting close to five in the evening of my first day as a Thinker. A lower intelligence AI entered my room to tidy up. The thing was careful not to give me an opportunity to get out the door, and I thought that was dumb.
It asked me, “Would you be interested in reading some H. G. Wells?”
I replied, involuntarily, “I already have—most of his stuff.” And I was baffled. Where had that response come from? Had I really read H. G. Wells?
Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.